Bolton Wanderers 2 Northampton Town 1 '“ match review, player ratings and highlights
Despite their three-game winning run coming to an end in frustrating circumstances at the Macron on Saturday, there were many aspects of this game that further underlined the positives strides being made by Justin Edinburgh
If the previous three outings showcased Northampton’s new-found ability to dig deep and grind out important wins, Saturday’s clash at promotion-chasing Bolton Wanderers was conclusive proof of their rapid progress over these past few weeks.
Resolute in defence, hard-working in midfield and always a threat in attack, this was almost the complete away performance that was only undone by a controversial refereeing call and one defensive lapse in a match-defining six-minute spell.
It was the second time this season that the Cobblers pushed Bolton all the way but both times the team chasing promotion took the spoils, although it was far from a formality for a side who had scored four in each their previous two outings.
They had to do it the hard way and call upon all of their resources and quality to come from behind after Michael Smith’s classy opener, which didn’t necessarily come against the run of play, had given the visitors a shock but not completely undeserved lead.
Though they were ultimately beaten, Edinburgh can take great heart and satisfaction from the manner of his team’s gutsy performance.
More than anything, he has restored the fight and desire back in this Cobblers team, a key element that was decidedly absent towards the sorry end of Rob Page’s tenure.
The Bristol Rovers abomination is a distant memory, and after Edinburgh’s first game also saw them ship five at MK Dons, Northampton are now a far more resolute outfit that will be a match for anyone in the division based on the evidence of Saturday.
No longer can opposing teams turn up and expect an easy game. No longer will the Cobblers crumble once the going gets tough.
It can also be said that Northampton are now enjoying their best and most consistent run of the season, even in defeat at the Macron, as they produced another performance full of grit and determination to almost claim a major scalp on the back of three straight wins.
But, in the end, Bolton’s quality, helped by some controversial officiating, saw them win through, and it must be said the Trotters just about did enough to take the points after displaying all of their undoubted quality in a blistering 20-minute spell that blew Town away.
In hindsight, the worst thing Northampton did on Saturday was to score. For the 55 minutes prior to that, they took the game to Bolton and matched them stride-for-stride, the hosts unable to create a single chance of a clear-cut nature.
But not only did Smith’s goal wake Bolton from their slumbers, it also prompted Town to step off the gas, drop that fraction deeper and encourage the home side, now playing renewed urgency and desperation, to come surging forward.
And they needed no invitation to attack, although initially they were kept at bay by the resilient visitors.
Adam Smith was in fine form, denying Adam Le Fondre, Darren Pratley and Gary Madine all in quick succession, while Lewin Nyatanga and Zander Diamond seemed to win every header that came into the Cobblers box.
The two full-backs kept things tight, the only lapse leading to Bolton’s winner, while the hard-working midfield four, again deployed in a diamond, struck the right balance between defence and attack to always keep Wanderers on their toes.
The excellent Luke Williams regularly led counter-attacks and linked up with Michael Smith and Marc Richards, who were both key in relieving the pressure and allowing Cobblers to get up the pitch.
Every piece in the jigsaw was in place, however what Northampton didn’t count on was the referee’s whistle. After screaming and shouting for fouls and potential penalties all afternoon, the Bolton fans and players eventually got their wish.
It looked harsh on Matty Taylor, who also had a fine game, but it felt inevitable and Le Fondre duly smashed home from 12 yards before Morais bagged the winner six minutes later.
Even then, though, the visitors didn’t give up and only the belated albeit correct raising of the offside flag them denied them a dramatic 95th minute equaliser, John-Joe O’Toole denied in heartbreaking fashion.
Regardless of the result, however, there were so many positives to take out of Saturday. Now the challenge is to reproduce this type of performance for each of the final seven games of the season.
How they rated...
Adam Smith - Fine display between the sticks, one of his best of the season to date. Produced a string of terrific stops with Le Fondre, Pratley and Madine all foiled. Helpless for the two goals ... 8 CHRON STAR MAN
Aaron Phillips - Steady as you like at right-back, though the fact the second goal came from his side may be of some frustration. Nevertheless, he did everything asked of him in another impressive outing... 8
Zander Diamond - Typified Town’s dogged attitude by throwing his body around to block various shots and head away dangerous crosses. Was agonisingly close to scoring too when heading against the bar first-half... 8
Lewin Nyatanga - Another important cog in a determined defensive machine, withstanding Bolton’s threat for long spells. He was there whenever Diamond wasn’t and came so close to seeing out a superb result... 8
David Buchanan - In for a tricky afternoon against ‘assist-king’ Morais but was virtually error-free and almost completely nullified Bolton’s threat down his side, even if Morais did get on the end of the cross to win it... 8
Jak McCourt - Came in for his first start since December and was understandably off the pace, misplacing several early passes that put team-mates in trouble. Better out of possession and gave the back four good protection. His discipline in defence also allowed others freedom to get forward... 6
John-Joe O’Toole - Thought he had won it at the death, only for the linesman to belatedly raise his flag. Most of his work came defensively but he carried it out well. Worked as hard as anyone... 7
Matty Taylor - In the right place at the right time to produce two timely blocks, and his set-pieces were Town’s best chance, as proved by the goal. Looks much fitter in recent weeks. Handball given against him was harsh at best... 8
Luke Williams - Provided his side’s best attacking outlet in the first-half, dragging them up field with numerous driving runs that led to set-pieces to keep Bolton honest. Neat in possession and able to find pockets of space, he’s a pleasure to watch when on form... 8
Michael Smith - Was key in relieving Bolton’s pressure by keeping his side up the pitch through his relentless work ethic and determination to chase down every ball. Went close first-half before excellently volleying Town ahead early in the second... 8
Marc Richards - Lovely cushioned pass almost teed up Smith in the first-half. Didn’t get a chance at goal himself but he put himself about and led the defensive effort from the front... 7
Paul Anderson - 6
Keshi Anderson - 6